Today at a panel during its annual Firaxicon event, Firaxis took the wraps off of two new enemies coming to XCOM 2: the Archon, and the Advent Shieldbearer. Shacknews was on-hand to talk with the developers about the new additions.
The Shieldbearer is a heavy tank unit with a bulky set of armor. He's hard to take down on his own, but his special ability makes him even more of a threat. He can activate shielding within a radius around him, which will buff any other enemy units inside of it. The team said during the presentation that he'll often need to be the first priority, because once he armors up his allies the battle gets that much more difficult.
The Archon carries a strikingly different art style, which creative director Jake Solomon joked looks akin to a summon from Final Fantasy. Archons don't take cover, but they're resiliant on their own regardless. They use a beam staff as their primary weapon, but once they're hit they fly directly at units for a high-damage melee attack. Then they have the dramatic "Blazing Pinions" ability, which sees them flying above the battlefield and targeting multiple units with a series of bombs.
"We really wanted it to be a contrast to the Floater," art director Greg Foertsch told Shacknews. "The Floater is dirty and grungy, and we wanted to embody 'elegance' with this. We somehow landed on Egyptian influence--it was so elegant with a lot of gold. He has this sort of angelic feel. We were really trying to contrast against other characters, and with this inner rage--the violence when he attacks--we wanted to contrast that."
The elegance isn't lost on the game as a whole. The presentation made a point of showing the city architecture, 20 years after the aliens have successfully taken over. It looks eerily perfect, and the Archon continues that visual language. Foertsch mentioned it's as if the aliens are "trying to make it a little less scary even though it's more scary."
Between an intimidating Archon and the defensive powerhouse Shieldbearer, I wondered if any work had to be done to balance for the new enemies.
"We have these fundamental building blocks to deal with in XCOM," Solomon told us. "You've got aim, you've got cover, you've got mobility. A lot of things we do is give the aliens abilities to take those away. Let's say the Viper, she can grab a soldier with her tongue and steal them, and all of a sudden you're down a soldier. So, the Archon, same thing. They are extremely mobile and they can melee attack your units, and they can fly up above and bomb you. But their bomb doesn't land for one more turn, so the counter for that is mobility."
Solomon was careful to note that that the team doesn't think of balancing in XCOM as coming up with specific counters for enemy types, partly because the new procedurally generated stages would make that unworkable. Since enemies are chosen semi-randomly, players should always have the tools to deal with whatever combination might arise.
Check back on Monday for more from the team on modding, procedural generation, and more.